Cotton Farming and Covid-19: On the Ground in Mali


Published Friday, July 31st, 2020

Coronavirus Update

  • BCI works with two Implementing Partners (on-the-ground partners in charge of delivering the BCI Programme) and 54,326 licensed BCI Farmers in Mali.
  • To help farmers overcome Covid-19 challenges, BCI’s Implementing Partners are working closely with them to help increase their yields, reduce costs and improve fibre quality, which are all necessary to absorb the shock of cotton’s falling price in Mali.
  • Implementing Partner Compagnie Malienne Pour le Dévelopement du Textile are also working with the Malian government to recruit partners to build textile industry facilities so cotton can be processed locally into yarn and fabric, guaranteeing continued demand for the farmers’ cotton during this challenging period and beyond.
  • BCI’s farmer training and licensing activities have transitioned from in-person to online for the safety of field staff and BCI Farmers.

Find out more about the situation on the ground in the following Q&A with Compagnie Malienne Pour le Dévelopement du Textile (CMDT).

In Mali, the cotton season is just beginning. What challenges do cotton farmers face in the lead-up to the cotton season?  

The pandemic has generated many challenges for farmers. Firstly, the market price of cotton in Mali has fallen because of the reduced global demand. When farmers come to sell this season’s harvest, they are unlikely to obtain a good price (compared to previous seasons). This will impact their — already low — profit margins, harming their economic security and livelihoods.

Access to inputs (like fertilisers and farm equipment, for example) has become a challenge during the pandemic. There has been a bottleneck in cross-border trade which has hindered the arrival of imports in Mali, and prices have increased compared to last year.

Consequently, farmers are struggling to access the quantity of fertilisers they need. Another cause for concern is the unpredictable, extreme weather (that has been increasing in severity in recent years) which could lead to farmers’ yields taking another hit.

In the Western media, there is a lot of coverage about the loss of livelihoods for garment factory workers because many global brands have postponed or cancelled their orders. However, those at the beginning of the supply chain — cotton farmers — have largely been ignored. What do you think the short and long-term impact will be for cotton farmers in Mali?

Currently, cotton farmers’ livelihoods are under threat. The disruption caused at the beginning of the season has already affected their income. On top of this, the general economic slowdown, combined with restrictive protective measures, has constricted demand and hiked the price of staple food items. Currently, food and nutrition insecurity is a real risk for vulnerable low-income communities in Mali.

In the longer term, labour issues by the virus, movement restrictions and social distancing rules) and an increase in input costs may contribute to cotton supply shortages. The fall in production and price of goods creates long-term economic insecurity for farmers, affecting the agricultural sector as a whole. Agriculture makes up around 40% of Mali’s economy, so economic shocks will be felt throughout the country.

Why do cotton farmers need support from CMDT and BCI during this time?

 The BCI training and support that we deliver to farmers is vital during this challenging time. The guidance we provide to farmers helps them to increase yields, reduce costs and improve fibre quality, which are all necessary to absorb the shock of cotton’s falling price.

In Mali, the majority of cotton is exported. To protect Malian cotton farmers, with the support of the Malian government, we are looking for partners to build textile industry facilitites so cotton can be processed locally into yarn and fabric, guaranteeing continued demand for the farmers’ cotton each season.

Market access has become challenging for us. Each year, we purchase 100% of the seed-cotton grown by BCI Farmers and process it in ginning factories, and this year, it has been difficult for us to secure a good price for the processed cotton fibre. This could have an impact on seed-cotton prices in the future.